Today a Helsinki appeals court acquitted two Christians of “hate crimes” charges with potential prison sentences for tweeting Bible verses and publishing a Christian booklet about sexual ethics. This unprecedented application of Finnish law has kept Member of Parliament Paivi Rasanen and Lutheran Bishop Juhana Pohjola in court for nearly five years.
Despite today’s unanimous ruling affirming a unanimous lower-court acquittal, those five years are likely to increase. The state prosecutor told media she will appeal to Finland’s Supreme Court, and the court is likely to take the case, said Rasanen and Pohjola’s lawyer, Matti Sankamo, in a press conference from Finland this morning. An adverse ruling could effectively outlaw Christianity in Finland and damage the fundamental human rights to free speech and religious exercise across the world.
“This is a significant win … for everyone concerned with the protection of fundamental freedoms,” Rasanen said in the press conference. “While I celebrate this victory wholeheartedly, I am also saddened at the thought of the enormous state resources expended over the last four years to prosecute us for nothing more than the peaceful expression of our Christian faith. The basic human right to free speech remains under serious threat in Finland and around the world.”
Rasenen and Pohjola said they immediately texted friends and family the news of the court decision this morning, with Pohjola reading Psalm 103’s words of praise to his family, he said. He also immediately shared the news with fellow pastors, and “I got an immediate reaction that ‘We are so happy our bishop is not labeled as a criminal,'” he said.
“This is not only a cultural or legal battle but also a spiritual battle,” Pohjola said, noting their prosecution raises the “question of [whether] pastor and church can teach publicly what we understand to be the word of God and the created order and the natural law. There have been difficult moments, but I understand this is my calling as a Christian and a pastor to guard the faith and teach it publicly and carry the cross.”
That cross, he said, is not a physical cross like the one he wears around his neck, “It’s to pay the price in this age to be a witness for Christ.”
The case began in 2019, when Rasanen argued on X (then Twitter) that Finland’s state church, in which her husband is a pastor, should not sponsor an LGBT parade. She tweeted a picture of Bible verses that say non-heterosexual acts are unnatural.
Finland’s top prosecutor investigated complaints filed over Rasanen’s tweet. This led to three days of police interrogating Rasanen and an investigation into Rasanen’s 25 years as a member of Parliament and former interior minister for the nation recently admitted into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
That investigation unearthed a 2004 booklet Rasanen, a medical doctor, wrote and Pohjola published as part of a church catechism series. The booklet, titled “Male and Female He Created Them,” explains basic Christian doctrines about God’s design for marriage to comprise one man and one woman for life.
Helsinki prosecutor Anu Mantila argued Finnish courts should ban from the internet the booklet, Rasanen’s tweet, and an audio recording of Rasanen defending Christian views. Mantila also seeks punitive fines. “Male and Female He Created Them” was published in 2004, several years before Finland adopted the antiterrorism laws now being used to prosecute the two Christians for “hate speech.”
“With the right police and prosecutor, we could expect to see similar cases crop up across Europe and in fact around the world,” noted Alliance Defending Freedom International lawyer Paul Coleman, who is assisting the Christians’ legal defense. Hate crimes laws like Finland’s are on the books in many European nations and American states and cities.
Rasanen said the most difficult part of her prosecution has been the prosecutor’s false accusations against her, including that Rasanen considers homosexuals inferior. She said that is “against my conviction” as a Christian. Christianity teaches that every human is made in God’s image and so beloved by God that He sacrificed His own Son to wash away every sin ever committed.
“We represent the common traditional classical understanding of family and sexual ethics, and now this has been labeled widely in our society and also in the established Lutheran church as something which is … not only offending and extremist but it’s also criminal,” Pohjola said.
Pohjola is the bishop of a small non-state church body that adheres to the Bible’s teachings, which Finland’s state church has in large part abandoned. The Federalist interviewed Pohjola in person in 2021, and Rasanen in person in 2022.
In the press conference, Pohjola and Rasanen expressed gratitude for all the prayers and messages of support they’ve received from around the world, as well as their own families’ steadfast support during their trials. They both called it a “privilege” to defend Christianity and the basic human rights of free speech and freedom of religion in court and in numerous media appearances since their prosection began.
Rasanen, whose 11 grandchildren include a newborn, highlighted a message she’d received from a 16-year-old Finnish girl who said the prosecution has encouraged her to be more public about her faith at school.
“In a free society, faith is not meant to be hidden behind closed doors,” Rasanen said today. “This is what happens in dictatorships, not democracies.”